By polling, money raised and media attention, the top tier Republican candidates are Romney, Guiliani and McCain. In recent weeks, McCain has clearly slipped a bit. Of the second tier candidates, Tommy Thompson, Jim Gilmore and Mike Huckabee seem to be the favorites. Most years, a Republican ticket with some combination of Romney, Guiliani or Thompson would be virtually unbeatable. They are conservative enough to hold onto the traditional Republican strongholds in the South and West and would put the blue states of the northeast and upper midwest into play. Certainly the Democrats could not afford to lose any of the trio of Massachusetts, NY or Illinois and have a hope of winning. Things get more complicated when we examine the likely Democrat ticket of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. I doubt that even Guiliani can carry NY against Hillary, and I suspect that even a ticket with Thompson would have trouble carrying his home state, much less Illinois, against the Obama Express. Romney's loss to Ted Kennedy does not auger well for his ability to carry Mass against the liberal duo of Hillary and Obama. If Romney and Guiliani cannot put the northeast at least in play, then their complicated positions on issues important to core republican voters, eg abortion and gay rights, begin to look like huge negatives. To win, a republican ticket will have to sweep the red states of the south, plains, southwest and mountain states. Republicans will not be able to risk evangelicals sitting out the race. Where does this lead us? Well, which candidates have the best chance of carrying the Bush red states? I think we have to start with Fred Thompson. As a Reaganesque southerner, he could be counted on to keep the south ex-Florida and much of the west in the republican column. If President Bush hadn't already fouled the nest, the ideal running mate would have been brother Jeb Bush, who would deliver Florida. Forget that now. That leaves as the obvious choice, John McCain. Would McCain take the second spot on a Thompson ticket? I think so, and it might be an ideal arrangement. A lot of republicans respect McCain but don't entirely trust his judgment. As VP though, McCain would add a lot of stature to the ticket without the worries of him losing his cool in the Oval Office.